or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Mobile App for Searching Libraries

   February 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redlaser logoNot having a cell phone, I can be a bit behind when it comes mobile apps - but this is still cool even to tech-no's like me.

My former co-worker Chris pointed out the iPhone app RedLaser, that turns the iPhone's camera into a barcode scanner. The app was designed to do instant price checks while you're in a store, to see if you could buy something cheaper online.

He also found that the database it scans can be customized - which means it could be modded to search a library catalog (among other things).

So a patron with an iPhone (or an Android) could be shopping in a bookstore, see a book they'd like to read, and instantly scan it to see if it's available at their local library. Great stuff.

But wait, there's more...
Another colleague, Scott Kehoe of NMRLS, posted about making customized versions that can search the MVLC (my library consortium), MassCat and the NOBLE consortium catalog. His post shows how he did it, links to Delicious for the customized databases, and explains how you can customize it yourself.

I think this is a great thing to promote to patrons, but they need to be careful about walking around bookstores scanning barcodes. I've heard many stores will throw people out if they appear to be doing "research" (recording a store's prices or looking for country of origin). Also, about this app, one bookstore owner was quoted as saying:

If I see any lecherous internet bottomfeeders using my store as a display case for a discount website, I will politely ask them to leave.

As the world of mobile devices becomes more compatible with the world of ebooks, the next step will be to create customs searches of places like Overdrive and Project Gutenberg, so that patrons can not just locate but also download the desired book immediately. I tend to think instant gratification is not a good thing, but in this day and age, it is certainly easy to support.

For a few more library-related apps, check out Aaron's post on Walking Paper.



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/27/08

   May 3rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Google Street View of LaundromatOne of thing I love about my job is the absurd way unlikely resources sometimes need to be cobbled together to answer a question.

A patron called the desk asking for the phone number of a laundromat/cleaners in town. She knew it was just down the street from the library, and I pass it every day, but neither one of us could remember the name.

It was lunch time at the library, so there are no coworkers around to ask. I checked the yellow pages under laundromat, cleaners and dry cleaners, but the only businesses listed were not at the address we're looking for. I tried a few internet searches for "laundromat chelmsford" and the like, but had no immediate luck.

If there was another person to cover the desk, I would have just walked up the street and called her back with the information. But it was this thought - seeing the sign from the street - that gave me the brilliant idea of trying Google Street View.

I typed the Library's address into Google Maps, switched over to Street View, and then walked the little yellow man up the block to the laundromat. From this view, I could make out the name of the business (actually, I got lucky and their van was parked in the lot), and from there I could look them up in the white pages.

The patron was not only happy to get the phone number, but amazed at hearing about Street View for the first time. She was so interested that we stayed on the phone for another five minutes while I explained what it was, how it worked, and how she could get to it on her own.

Interesting postscript to this story:
The Chelmsford Library is located on an "island" between two one-way streets. However, this is poorly marked, and I sometimes see non-local cars going the wrong direction. Apparently, whoever was driving the Google photo car is also not from around here. By rotating the Street View down to see the car itself, you can tell by the side mirrors that it's driving the wrong direction - but best of all, you can follow the car's hasty U-turn in the library staff parking lot. Happily this did not cause an accident, but I'm surprised Google publishes photographic evidence of its drivers breaking traffic laws.



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